FROM TAPE LOOPS TO MIDI:
KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSENS FORTY YEARS OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC
by Michael Manion
From his landmark electronic work, Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths) from 1955/56 to his MIDI intensive opera, Dienstag aus Licht (Tuesday from Light) from 1988-91, German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen has created some of the most important and influential music of this century. It was Stockhausen, who in 1953, composed the first piece of music using synthesized tones, Studie I, and has since become the leading figure of European New Music, attracting a large and enthusiastic international following. At the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, his music was performed in a specially built geodesic dome every day for six months, for an audience of over one million. His seven-opera cycle, Light, performed at major houses such as Milans La Scala and Londons Covent Garden, like his annual concert tours, are routinely heard by Standing Room-Only crowds, and sometimes beyond.
The start of one concert in Italy was delayed when several people who could not get tickets, began pounding on the doors, demanding to be let in. Stockhausen saw to it that they were. After a concert in London, one critic wrote that if Bernstein and the Beatles had appeared simultaneously, the applause could hardly have been louder or more sustained.1 The Beatles themselves acknowledged Stockhausens influence on their later work by including his picture on the cover of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (number 5, between Lenny Bruce and W.C. Fields), as one of the people that they would most like to have in the audience of this imaginary concert.2
Karlheinz Stockhausen was born near Cologne on August 22, 1928, into an era when the fundamental concepts of Western music were undergoing the most radical changes in several hundred years. The extreme chromaticism of late nineteenth century composers such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, had stretched traditional concepts of tonality to the breaking point. Arnold Schoenbergs techniques of atonal (or pantonal) composition, and his later method of twelve-tone composition more or less abolished accepted ideas of tonality, consonance and dissonance, while the more experimental works of composers ranging from George Antheil to Edgard Varèse expanded concepts of musical sounds. Sirens, anvils, new and exotic percussion instruments from throughout the world, as well as new electronic instruments such as the Theremin, and the Ondes Martenot, began to find their way onto the concert stage.
The first significant electronic music event was, arguably, in 1948 when Pierre Schaeffer produced a Concert of Noises for the French radio. Although it consisted mainly of modified recordings of natural and instrumental sounds, this musique concèrte was responsible for many of the basic techniques which were to be used in the production of early electronic music.
These so-called classical studio techniques are methods of tape manipulation in which individual sounds are recorded onto separate pieces of tape which are then cut into small pieces, rearranged and spliced together, or interspersed with pieces of blank tape to create rhythms. Sounds can be made into tape loops, played backwards, mixed with other sounds, sped up, slowed down, filtered, reverberated, etc...
In 1952, while he was studying with Olivier Messiaen at the Conservatory in Paris, Stockhausen met Schaeffer and arranged to begin experiments at theStudio for Musique Concrète of the French Radio. It was there in 1952/53 that he produced his first work of musique concrète, Etude.
First I recorded six sounds of variously prepared low piano strings struck with an iron beater, using a tape speed of 76.2 centimetres per second. After that, I copied each sound many times and, with scissors, cut off the attack of each sound. A few centimetres of the continuation [steady state], which was - briefly - quite steady dynamically, were used. Several of these pieces were spliced together to form a tape loop, which was then transposed to certain pitches using a transposition machine. A few minutes of each transposition were then recorded on separate tapes.
I was only allowed to have the studio with a technician for a few hours each week.Therefore, I hammered a nail into my desktop at the student hostel, laid a metal tape hub on the nail, fastened a ruler horizontally onto the desk in front of me, and placed a series of hubs with modulated tapes and one hub with leader tape next to each other at the rear of the desk. Then I cut many short pieces from a roll of white splicing tape and stuck them next to each other on the edge of the desk.
I then chose, according to my score, one of the tapes having a certain sound transposition, measured the notated length in centimetres and millimetres, cut off that length, spliced it with a little piece of the splicing tape onto a lengthy piece of white leader tape, and wound the white tape plus the first little piece of magnetic tape around the metal hub on the nail. For this I used a pencil which was inserted into the outer hole of the hub.
Next, I chose another prepared tape, measured and cut off a piece, and spliced it onto the previous piece. Whenever the score prescribed a pause, I spliced a corresponding length of white tape onto the result tape. Occasionally, my winding apparatus did not function, and tape salad was the result: I then crawled around on the floor under my desk searching for one end of the fallen tape. Once found, the confusion of the entangled tape was unravelled with great difficulty, and it was wound around the hub again.
When my studio time came, I synchronized two of my spliced tapes using two play-back tape recorders, recorded the sum on a third tape recorder and copied this result again - depending on the polyphony desired - on top of a further zebra-tape of bits of brown tape and little pieces of white pause. Already upon hearing two synchronized layers, and even more so hearing three or four layers, I became increasingly pale and helpless: I had imagined something completely different!
On the following day, the sorcery undespairingly continued: I changed my series, chose other sequences, cut other lengths, spliced different progressions, and hoped afresh for a miracle in sound.3
Etude, the 3 minute, 15 second miracle in sound, is a dense texture of layers of rapid, telegraph-like rhythms, arranged into short phrases. The basic sound material was made less recognizable by removing the attack and decay portions of the envelope, and presenting only the steady state in short bursts. By restricting the pitch material, timbre and texture become the primary interest.
The purpose of Stockhausens work in musique concrète was not to imitate acoustic music, but was to discover new possibilities of the relationships between music and sound.
The material itself must be part of the creative act... you make a sound with an inner life because you intend to use it in a particular composition, and you dont want just to make the material and later on to press it into a form. That would simply add a few new samples to our traditional instrumental sound world. What Im interested in is to see how form and material become completely one...
There are always two aspects. You can use timbre in a completely hedonistic way, just to enjoy , more or less, a given sound, as in rock music. You can listen to timbre and hear the new sounds. But after two years theyre out of fashion because youve never been able to understand these new sounds as making something clear to you, within a given composition. There wasnt a clear relationship between the material and the forming. Thats why the electric guitar sound for me isnt better than a trumpet. I got used to the electric guitar sound as well as the trumpet sound, so what? Or any electric organ, or playing Bach with a synthesizer, so what? Its just old wine in new bottles. What changes the whole situation is if the timbre has an illuminating force...4
In 1953, Stockhausen returned to Cologne and began work at the newly established Studio for Electronic Music of the West German Radio. This studio differed from the Studio for Musique Concrète in that the focus in Cologne was, at first, to synthesize sounds using purely electronic means. After some months of experimenting with existing electronic instruments, Stockhausen concluded that;
An irrevocable step became necessary: I returned to the element which is the basis of all sound multifariousness: to pure vibration, which can be produced electrically and which is called a sine wave. Every existing sound, every noise, is a mixture of such sine waves - a spectrum. Proportions of numbers,intervals and dynamics of such sine waves determine the characteristics of each spectrum.They determine the timber. An thus, for the first time, it was possible to compose - in the true sense of the word - the timbres in a music, i.e. to synthesize them from elements, and by so doing, to let the universal structural principle of a music also effect the sound proportions.
This is additive synthesis, an application of Fouriers theory that any sound can be broken down into a sum of sine waves of various amplitudes. A sawtooth wave, for example, consists of all partials (the entire overtone series) in diminishing amplitude ratios. More complex sounds, such as a human voice, contain harmonics at various dynamically changing amplitude levels, and some sounds may have partials with inharmonic ratios; ratios that are not present in the natural overtone series.
By using the tape looping and layering techniques from musique concrète, it is possible to synthesize wave forms with any arbitrary frequency and amplitude ratios between the partials without being limited to the natural overtone series.
In 1953, using additive synthesis, Stockhausenproduced the first piece of electronic music, Studie I, using three tape recorders, a sine wave generator, and a natural echo chamber.
... I recorded individual sine waves on magnetic tape (76.2 cm per second), played them back two at a time using 2 tape machines, and recorded them on a 3rd tape recorder, etc. After this, I hand-measured, cut, and spliced each of these note mixtures onto white tape (using liquid acetone), before copying the resulting tape collages on top of each other to form polyphonic structures.
The sequence-echoes were produced in a natural echo chamber: a sequence of sounds on tape was played back over a loudspeaker in the echo chamber and with a microphone there, recorded in the studio, then cut a spliced onto the non reverberated sequence.
For the basic theory of the composition, Stockhausen composed a system in which the duration, and amplitude of a given partial is dependent upon its distance from the middle of the audible frequency range. The farther frequency is from the center, theshorter its duration, and the lower its amplitude. A set of five ratios was then used to generate a kind of progression from which the sine waves were grouped into timbres, envelopes were chosen, and larger structures were derived. The basic frequencies were arrived at by multiplying a starting frequency by the following ratios: 12/5, 4/5, 8/5, 5/12, 5/4. The resulting frequency groups were arranged into a particular order that was compatible with Stockhausens criteria that symmetrical or monotonous sequences, as well as octaves or unisons, were to be avoided.
This was a new way of thinking about music and timbre. It was not a case of first writing music and then searching for sounds, either from existing instruments or from experimenting with electronic means to produce new sounds. In this case, the timbres and musical structures all result from the application of the same compositional system.
New means change the method; new methods change the experience, and new experiences change man. Whenever we hear sounds we are changed: we are no longer the same after hearing certain sounds, and this is the more the case when we hear organized sounds, sounds organized by another human being: music.
Until around 1950 the idea of music as sound was largely ignored. That composing involved the composition of sounds themselves, was no longer self-evident...It took a little leap forward to reach the idea of composing, or synthesizing the individual sound. 5
After working on another electronic Studie, this time using subtractive synthesis, (in which colored noise is filtered into small bands of sounds) and composing six works for solo piano, a wind quintet, and an important composition for three orchestras, Stockhausen completed the first major electronic work, Gesang der Jünglinge.
Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths), from 1955/56 is the most impressive works of electronic music to come out of the 1950s, a work which many consider to be the first electronic music masterpiece. With this piece, Stockhausen achieved a musical expressiveness that had surpassed anything yet attempted in this genre. Though actually a combination of electronic and musique concrète (a practice which Stockhausen was to continue in many subsequent works), it was this piece, perhaps more than any other, that established electronic music as a valid art form in the minds of the public, and stimulated imaginations of generations of composers. It also established important esthetic criteria that seem to be in use even today among the electronic and computer music mainstream. It is common to hear new works, composed at the most advanced computer music facilities, that are highly reminiscent, at least superficially, of this early work.
The following introduction to this work is taken from the program of the world premier, which took place on May 30th, 1956 at the West German Radio in Cologne:
The starting point for work on the electronic composition Gesang der Jünglinge was the idea of unifying vocal sounds and electronically produced sounds: audibly they were to be as fast, as long, as loud, as soft, as dense and interwoven, with as small and large pitch intervals, and in as differentiated variations of timbre as the imagination might require, freed from the physical limitations of any one singer. Consequently, much more sophisticated electronic sounds had to be composed than heretofore, since sung speech-sounds probably represent the most complex of sound structures - in broad scale from vowels (sounds) to consonants (noises). A merging of all the colors used into one sound family can only be experienced if sung sounds can appear to be electronic sounds, and electronic sounds to be sung sounds. At certain points in the composition the sung sounds become comprehensible words; at other points they have a value purely as sounds, and between these extremes are various degrees of verbal comprehensibility. Single syllables and words are taken from the Song of the Youths in the Fiery Furnace (third book of Daniel)[in German], and whenever language emerges momentarily from the sound signals of the music, it praises God.
A boys voice was recorded singing the text, and was used, along with electronic sounds, as basic material that is subjected to all of the techniques of musique concrète All of the sounds, including the vocal sounds, were arranged into a continuum between sine waves and white noise. For the electronic sounds, this was separated into eleven stages:
1. Sine waves
2. Periodically frequency modulated sine waves
3. Statistically frequency modulated sine waves
4. Periodically amplitude modulated sine waves
5. Statistically amplitude modulated sine waves
6. Periodic combinations of both types of sine wave modulation simultaneously
7. Statistical combinations of both types of sine wave modulation simultaneously
8. Colored noise with unchanged density
9. Colored noise with statistically changed density
10. Filtered impulses (clicks) from periodic impulses sequences
11. Filtered impulses (clicks) from statistical impulses sequences
The voice material was also arranged into scales of timbre between tone (vowels) and noise (consonants). Between dark and bright vowels, and dark and bright consonants, and into a scale of what Stockhausen called a speech continuum; a scale between the extremes of intelligible speech and nonsense.
At the beginning of Gesang der Jünglinge, a series of 7 degrees of comprehensibility can be heard:
1. Imprecisely comprehensible, far away in an enclosed space (at 10.5); the word is jubelt.
2. Low volume, high density, swarms (hosts) of voices, permutation of syllables, very distant, in an open space, fairly short (ca. 3 seconds) (after 15.4"); I classified this as not comprehensible; the text is jubelt dem Herrn.
3. Slightly less dense, but accordingly rather long (ca. 6 seconds); the increase and decrease of volume, and the increasing spatial proximity in the middle of the following complex, renders a few syllables there more comprehensible (after 20.2); classified as scarcely comprehensible; the words are Preiset den Herrn ihr Werke alle des Herrn.
4. There follows a very brief speech-complex (ca. 1.5 seconds), which however comes spatially very close, with increasing volume, and low density (after 27.4); this is quite comprehensible, and is
5. retroactively supported by the solo voice which immediately follows, and which sings slowly and clearly (after 28.4); lobt ihn - lobet ihn, classified as comprehensible.
6. Multifarious permutations of syllables and words occur simultaneously in the longest and densest group which also has large dynamic variations (after 34.5); classified a very little comprehensible; the text is ber alles ihn.
7. Large resonant space; text sung very slowly and by a single voice from - in the original 5 track version - a separate loudspeaker (after 24.3); almost comprehensible (it is often misunderstood); the words are in Ewigkeit.
With electronic and vocal sounds transforming into one another, language fading in and out of comprehensibility, micro-tonal lines, statistical textures, the musical achievement is matched by the technical one, which is impressive even when compared with todays technology. Yet this work was realized with essentially the same equipment as Studie I, and is often the result of a ensemble musicians/technicians, performing on a variety of devices.
Let me describe how weve gone about making a sound texture of twenty seconds duration. I sat in the studio with two collaborators. Two of us were handling knobs: with one hand, one of us controlled the levels and, with the other hand, the speed of pulses from a pulse generator which were fed into an electric filter; a second musician had a knob for the levels and another for the frequency of the filter; and the third one would manipulate a potentiometer to draw the envelope - the shape of the whole event - and also record it. I drew curves - for example: up down, up-down, up-down up-down, up, which had to be followed with the movement of a knob (lets say for loudness) for the twenty-second duration. And during these twenty seconds, another musician had to move the knob for the frequency of the pulses from four to sixteen pulses per second in an irregular curve that Id drawn of the paper. And the third musician had to move the knob for the frequency of the filter following a third curve.
So, everyone had a paper on which different curves were drawn. We said,Three, two, one, zero, started a stopwatch... we'd all do our curves, individually produce one sound layer which was the product of our movements; and this resulted in an aleatoric layer if individual pulses which, in general, speeded up statistically. But you could never at a certain moment say, This pulse will now come with that pitch. This was impossible to predetermine. Then wed make a second, third, fourth, fifth layer - the number of layers was also determined - and Id synchronize them all together and obtain a new sound.6
Gesang der Jünglinge was also the first work to use a multi channel recording and playback system to incorporate the spatial movement of sounds as part of the composition. By using four loudspeaker systems, one speaker in each corner of the auditorium, movement of sounds through the listening space can be simulated. This practice is now standard in most electronic and computer music concerts.
Since four channel tape machines were not readily available at the time Gesang der Jünglinge was composed, Stockhausen used a now extinct machine built by the Albrecht company, which was really two stereo tape recorders that were synchronized with perforations on the tape. This work was originally planned to be in five channels, with the fifth speaker suspended from the middle of the ceiling, and played back on a full track (monophonic) machine. Because of the synchronization problems, later in 1956 the five tracks were mixed down onto the new Telefunken one inch, four track machine.
Stockhausen had been involved with spatial composition since his work, Gruppen from 1955, which is written for three orchestras placed to the left, front, and right of the audience. In 1958 he began work on Carré, a composition for 4 orchestras and 4 choruses, which are placed around the audience, and in that same year, began experiments for his next electronic work, Kontakte (Contacts, 1959/60), which exists in two versions; one for 4 channel tape alone, and one for 4 channel tape and live piano and percussion. For this piece, Stockhausen invented several new forms of spatial movement such as flood sounds, which begin in one speaker only and rapidly flood through the other 3 speakers, as well as rotating sounds, which required the construction of the first location device, the rotation table.
The rotation table is a large turntable, that could rotate up to about 6 revolutions per second, and had a kind of directional loudspeaker attached to the center of it. The electronic music was played back, in mono, and the music was re-recorded onto 4 track tape with four microphones placed around the table. When this second tape is played back, using 4 speakers placed in the corners of the listening space, the music seems to spin around the room at various changing rates, and with very distinctive phase and doppler shifts.
The pianist and percussionist are placed at opposite ends of the stage, so that these instruments are also part of the spatial composition. As in Gesang der Jünglinge, the timbres are arranged into a scale, in this case from the electronic sounds, through the percussion sounds, to the piano. The percussion instruments were chosen from three catagories; those made of metal ( tam tam, crotales, cymbals, cowbells, etc...), wood (African wood drums, marimba etc...), and skin (tom toms etc...), and make Contacts with the electronic sounds. Stockhausens experiments, prior to composing Kontakte, suggested that what we usually think of as different properties of sound - timbre, pitch, and duration - are actually different aspects of time perception. By experimenting with a pulse generator, he found that it was possible to synthesize sounds by controlling the speed of various rhythmic patterns. For example; if a series of pulses 1/440th of a second apart were produced, the result would be a pitch of 440 cps, A-natural. Rapid cycling of more or less complex rhythms affect the timbre.
I recorded individual pulses from an impulse generator, and spliced them together in a particular rhythm. Then I made a tape loop of this rhythm, lets say it is tac-tac, tac, a very simple rhythm - and then I speed it up, tarac-tac, tarac-tac, tarac-tac,tarac-tac, and so on. After a while the rhythm becomes continuous, and when I speed it up still more, you begin to hear a low tone rising in pitch. That means this little period tarac-tac, tarac-tac, which lasted about a second, is now lasting less than one-sixteenth of a second, because a frequency of around 16 cycles per second is the lower limit of the perception of pitch, and a sound vibrating at 16 cycles per second corresponds to a very low fundamental pitch on the organ. The timbre of this sound is also an effect of the original rhythm being tarac-tac, rather than, say tacato-tarot, tacato-tarot, which would give a different tone color. You dont actually hear the rhythm any more, only a specific timbre, a spectrum which is determined by the composition of its components.
Now imagine speeding up the original one-second rhythm one thousand times, so that each cycle now lasts one-thousandth of a second; that will give you a sound in the middle range of audibility, of a constant pitch about two octaves above middle C on the piano. A frequency of 1000 cycles per second, and a particular timbre. I made a lot of experiments with different rhythms in order to see what they would give as differences in timbre. What we perceive as rhythm from a certain perspective, is perceived at a faster time of perception as pitch, with its melodic implications. You can build melodies by changing the basic periodicity, making it faster or slower for the sound to go up or down in pitch respectively. Within the basic period which determines the fundamental pitch, there are what I call the partials, which are subdivisions of the basic periodicity, and they are represented here by the inner divisions making up the original rhythm. These are perceived as the timbre.
If I change the periodicity of the sound: a little faster, a little slower, or to be more precise, make the duration of each period a little shorter or a little longer, then the sound starts oscillating around a certain middle frequency, and all the half vowel or half consonant components, which are already fairly broad-band, begin to break up. To the continuum between sound of fixed pitch and noise is nothing more than that between a more and a less stable periodicity: the noisiest noise being the most aperiodic. This discovery of a continuum between sound and noise, the fourth criterion of electronic music, was extremely important, because once such a continuum becomes available, you can control it, you can compose it, you can organize it.
If now we slow down the speed of a given rhythm we come into the realm of form. What is form in music? Well, we usually say a musical structure of between the one or two minutes of a piece of entertainment music, and the hour and a half of a Mahler symphony, which is about the longest we encounter in music of the western tradition. (There a few operas from the end of the nineteenth century which last longer, and which introduced some very important expansions of musical time, but there is nothing in our tradition like the Omizutori ceremony of Japan, in the Temple of Nara, which lasts three days and three nights without any break, or like certain tribal rituals still to be found in Ceylon or parts of Africa.) So, according to the fixed perspective of our tradition, form varies between dimensions of around one minute and ninety minutes. This corresponds to 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 64, 128 - a range of around seven octaves. Amazingly enough, we find a similar seven-octave range within the tradition formal subdivisions of music, from the length of a phrase, the smallest formal subdivision, say eight seconds, to the largest complete section, or movement, of about sixteen to seventeen minutes duration (8 - 16 - 32 - 64 - 128 - 256 - 512 - 1024 seconds). So there is a range of about seven octaves for durations from eight seconds up to seventeen minutes. Between eight and sixteen seconds, duration become less and less easy to remember. It has something to do with our perception: if I ask you to compare a duration of 13 seconds with one of 15 seconds, you hardly know the difference. If I ask you to compare a sound of one second with a sound of three seconds duration, on the other hand, the same difference of two seconds appears enormous. Our perceptions are logarithmic, not arithmetic, and that is important. Rhythm has its own field of perception and between eight and sixteen seconds there is a transition between our perceptions of rhythm and form.
Rhythm and meter are organized in measures, traditionally to a fixed periodicity or tempo for a given movement, say fast, or medium fast, or slow, because everything was based on dancing or body actions, and thats where the music came from. A periodicity of eight seconds is perceived as very slow: we are already entering the region where form begins. Subdivide eight seconds, and you have 8, 4, 2, 1, a half, a fourth, one-eights, one-sixteenth. One-eighth, eight attacks per second is about the as fast as we can play [on a keyboard] with our fingers: it is a limit determined by our muscles and bodily construction. I could go faster perhaps, to twelve or fourteen , by rolling my hands in a special way, but no more. There again, you see, the range is seven octaves (8 - 4 - 2 - 1 - 1/2 - 1/4 - 1/8 - 1/16), its very interesting.
With sixteen attacks per second, we reach what we
call pitch; between eight and sixteen, there is another transitional region
where it is difficult to know what the sound really is. And as we know from
the keyboard of the piano, there are seven and a half octaves in the range of
fundamental pitches: from 16 to around 4000 cycles per second. Above that we
perceive only brilliance.
The ranges of perception are ranges of time, and the time is subdivided by us, by the construction of our bodies and by our organs of perception. And since these modern means have become available, to change the time of perception continuously, from one range to another, from a rhythm into a pitch, or a tone or noise into a formal structure, the composer can now work within a unified time domain. And that completely changes the traditional concept of how to compose and think music, because previously they were all in separate boxes: harmony and melody in one box, rhythm and meter in another, then periods, phrasing, larger formal entities in another, while in the timbre field we had only names of instruments, no unity of reference at all.7
The discovery of unified time structuring was important for Stockhausen, who from his earliest work in electronic music sought to form a unity between all musical parameters. For example; if a rhythm can be sped up to become a timbre, then the resulting timbre can be used to perform the original rhythm. So, what was usually thought of as music, and timbre, in this case, are really differences in speed. This opened up seemingly myriad possibilities of crossing time domains, but Stockhausen would have to wait fifteen years, and for the invention of hybrid synthesizers with voltage controlled modules and digital sequencers, to exploit the implications of this theory.
In addition to forming the basis for Kontakte, unified time structuring is also the first of Stockhausens FOUR CRITERIA OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC, which remains the basis for his work in the medium today:
I - Unified time structuring
II - Splitting of sound
III - Multi-layered spatial composition
IV - Equality of tone and noise
Splitting of sound, means that a timbre is broken into its component parts, which can then be used to form individual musical layers. Multi-layered spatial composition, not only places sounds in various positions around the listener, but also simulates placing sounds at various distances from the listener, as well as superimposing several layers of sound. Equality of tone and noise, means that, if sound is considered to be a continuum from a simple sine wave at one end, to a complex noise at the other, then sounds from any point along the continuum are musically useful. With these four criteria, Stockhausen has drawn a clear distinction between the composition of instrumental, and electronic music. That does not mean that the two cannot co-exist; many of Stockhausens works, such as Kontakte, are written for a combination of electronic and acoustic sounds.
Stockhausens next electronic work, Mikrophonie I from 1964, is the first example of live electronic music, and one of the most interesting. The work is scored for a large tam-tam of about five feet in diameter, two microphones, and two filters, performed by six players. Two of the players excite the tam-tam, usually one on the front and one on the back, with various objects ranging from traditional mallets to kitchen utensils. Another pair of performers move microphones around the tam-tam, at various close distances and in changing patterns, while the third set of performers regulate filters and volume controls from positions in the audience. The rich harmonic content of the tam-tam is ideal for this kind of real-time processing, allowing the sounds to be split into several bands of complex sounds.
Stockhausen had bought the tam-tam for an earlier work, Momente, and began to experiment with it while it was literally hanging around his house:
This tam-tam was hanging in my garden: I couldnt put it in the living room, it was too large. Every once in a while, when I went out for a walk in the garden, I would take a pen or a key, and scratch it, or just knock it with my finger, bang it with a pebble, write on it with the pebble, and then often lean my ear very close to the surface of the tam-tam, where I would hear all sorts of strange sound vibrations. At a distance of four or five inches away from the surface, these sounds were no longer audible.
One day I asked the technician, who used to work with me in the studio for electronic music at Cologne Radio, to come over to my house and bring along a filter. We have nice continuous filters in the studio which can be played like a musical instrument: they are bandpass filters whith handles like a fader on a mixing desk, except they have two knobs moving indepen-dently or in parallel up and down, controlling the upper and lower limits of the frequency band-width.
I also asked him to bring a potentiometer, which
is a device for controlling the level of a sound from a microphone. I had my
own tape recorder set up in the living room. Then I took a basket, went into
the kitchen and gathered together all sorts of implements - spoons, tumblers,
rubber articles. I remember a clockwork eggtimer in a plastic case, wooden spoons
and other wood objects, and several small plastic utensils. I walked to the
tam-tam with that basket, took a microphone in my hand, wound the microphone
cable round my arm to keep it out of the way, and then started taking the various
articles one by one out of the basket and scratching, rubbing, every so often
hitting them against the surface. At the same time I moved the microphone, mostly
not in an premeditated way, just trying all sorts of movements in different
directions: going away from where I was scratching, coming back very close,
here and there, in all directions. And what I was doing and picking up with
the microphone was being recorded in the living room fifteen yards away by the
technician. At the same time he was also playing the filter, varying the band-width
at random, and moving the potentiometer back and forth at random as well. He
could not hear what I was doing fifteen yards away outside, so he was moving
these controls completely in the dark. We recorded for about twenty minutes
and then I walked in and said, lets hear it. And I must say that what
we both heard was so astonishing that we started embracing each other and saying,
this is unbelievable, a great discovery. We heard all sorts of animals that
I had never heard before, and at the same time many sounds of a kind I couldnt
have possibly imagined or discovered, not in the twelve years I had worked in
he electronic music studio up to the time of that experiment.8
The audience almost never hears the raw tam-tam sound. At any given instant, a microphone may be moving to or away from the point of exitation, giving the sound a new envelope, while the timbre is further shaped by the performer on a filter, and the entire event could possibly be part of a larger volume controlled event. The result is almost literally indescribable, a unique musical as well as sonic experience. Mikrophonie I is probably the first instance of a microphone used as a musical instrument, and so the title Mikrophonie (Microphony); MICROphone + symPHONY.
Live electronic processing of acoustic instruments is central to many of Stockhausens subsequent works. Mixture, from 1964 is written for a ring modulated symphony orchestra. The orchestra is divided into five groups; wind, brass, two string groups, and percussion. Each group is miced, and the winds, brass, and strings are mixed down to four channels, which are each fed to a separate ring modulator.
A ring modulator is an analog processing device that takes two inputs, a signaland a carrier frequency, and produces a single output. The signal is usually a wave form produced by an oscillator or the output from a microphone, and the carrier signal is usually a sine wave. The ring modulator then produces the sum and difference frequencies of the signal and carrier. The resulting sound depends on the complexity of the two source timbres, since the sum and differences of the component harmonics are also produced, and the relative frequencies of the fundamentals.
In Mixture, the orchestra groups function as the signals, and four musicians perform on four sine wave generators, the carrier frequencies for the four ring modulators. The symphony orchestra is transformed, allowing the kind of timbre composition that was, up to this point, only possible in the electronic music studio.
Stockhausen continued his work with live processing using ring modulators in his next work, Mikrophonie II (1965), for twelve vocalists, Hammond organ, four ring modulators, and tape. The voices and Hamond organ sounds are transformed by the ring modulators, and Stockhausen decided that use of the ring modulators required a new approach to the composition of the music.
Mikrophonie II offered the possibilities, as does purely electronic music, to compose with a scale of sounds ranging from natural to synthetic, from familiar (nameable) to unfamiliar (unnamable) ones. The what (the material) is not separable from the how (the forming). I would never have composed as I did, had the what of this process not had very specific characteristics which lead to a specific how. For example, when one uses ring modulation, one must compose particular kinds of structures - simple superimpositions, many tones of long duration, not-too-rapidly moving layers - since ring modulators create dense symmetrical spectra from simple material, and this can easily lead to an overweight of noise or a stereotyped coloring of the sounds.
During the premiere performance in the large auditorium of the Cologne Radio, I controlled potentiometers from the choir loft: according to the score I had to open or close the four speaker inputs, and thus could effect the mixture of natural and transformed sound. It is important that the transformation of the choral sound in Mikrophonie II has many gradations, that often untransformed layers are found mixed with more or less transformed layer, and that there is a transition from natural to synthetic sound, and vice versa.9
Telemusik, written in 1966 during a stay in Japan, is in some ways a return to some of the earlier concepts of musique concrète, in that Stockhausen made extensive use of recordings of existing musics, and sounds. However in this work Stockhausen encorporated the sounds and musics of many cultures, into a larger musical concept that goes beyond the idea of a montage.
During my first 8 or 9 days in Tokyo I could not sleep; one vision came again and again, a vision of sounds, new technical processes, formal relationships, pictures of notation, human relationships - all at once and in a network too tangled up to be unraveled in one logical process. In all this I wanted to come closer to the realization of an old dream; to take a step further in the direction of composing not my music, but a music of the whole world, of all countries and all races. I am certain you will hear them in TELEMUSIK, these mysterious visitors; from the Imperial Japanese court (the Gagaku Players), from the happy isle of Bali, from the southern Sahara, from a Spanish village fiesta, from Hungary, from the Shipibos of the Amazon, from the Omizutori ceremony, in Nara, in which I participated for three day and nights, from China - fantasic virtuosity! -, from the Kohyasan temple, from the Vietnamese highlands, and again from Vietnam, from the Buddhist Jakushiji temple, from the N drama H Sho Riu, and who knows from where else. They all wanted to participate in TELEMUSIK, sometimes superimosed and interpenetrating each other. I had my hands full in keeping the unknown world of electronically produced sounds open to these guests - I do not know how I did it, I was moonstruck, but I believe I suceeded in composing this TELEMUSIK... The situation of the collage of the first half of this century has been overcome: TELEMUSIK is not a collage anymore. Rather, through the process of intermodulation, old objects trouvs and new sounds, which I produced in the electronic studio, are combined into a higher unity: a univers-ality of past, present and future, of distant places and spaces: TELE-MUSIK10
Telemusik was realized at the Electronic Music Studios
of the Japanese Radio in Tokyo, using tone oscillators, filters, ring modulators,
the cutting and splicing techniques from musique concrète, and and a
specially built six channel tape recorder. The use of the six channel tape machine
proved to be unfortunate, since this one-of-a-kind device is no longer operational,
and Telmusik can now only be heard in the stereo mix.
The entire work is in thirty two large sections, in durations that expand in proportion to the fibinacci series (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34...). Each of these sections begins with a single sound of a different Japanese percussion instrument, with the pitch of each instrument related to the length of the section.
Within these sections, Stockhausen re-composed the existing musics. Material is filtered and split into bands of sound, modulated using the ring modulator, sped up and slowed down, transposed, mixed and contrasted with the purely electronic sounds. Telemusik is a convincing work. The use of the existing musics does not sound contrived at all, but is transformed into a new kind of experience ...suggestive of a sort of global village to which one stands in a relationship partly of radio-wave interconnection, partly of extra-sensory interconnection, and partly of brotherly empathy.11
To many Westerners, the original, un-processed, source material of Telemusik is as unusual as any piece of new music. But to the people from whos cultures the musics of Telemusik was taken, the result must be quite intriguing. Familiarity with thebasic material makes it easier to understand the transformative processes in the composition. In the "sonata-form" of the classical symphony and sonata, the composer usually indicated that the first part, the exposition, is to be repeated. This gave the audience a chance to be familiar with the material and therefore better understand the transformations and variations in the development sections. Transformation of familiar material is the central idea to Stockhausens next electronic work, Hymnen (Anthems), from 1966-67.
Hymnen is an epic work of electronic and musique concrète of almost two hours duration, which uses recordings of about forty of the worlds national anthems as source material, along with other sounds such as speech, birds, etc.. from various parts of the world, all subjected to electronic and compositional transformations.
Much of the material is transformed, similar to Kontakte, by acceleration and deceleration, by crossing time domains. Aside from variable speed tape recorders, a multiple rotary head tape recorder, which can independently change speed and pitch, was also available.
In Hymnen, Stockhausen often reveals how a sound was transformed, by what he calls decomposition. For example; the first of the works four sections, or regions, ends with a very high, shimmering, metallic sound:
Its just that hovering sound which is completely alone, high, and sounding like Indian bells, going slightly up and down. Now something incredible happens. When this sound goes downward continuously and slowly enough, you discover at a certain moment that these are human beings shouting. All the shaking metal sounds we mentioned before were nothing but these voices - little boys shouting Hi, come here! - speeded up enormously.
I move this sound slightly up again in speed until it sounds like swamp ducks. At this point, I used an actual recording of swamp ducks, and you dont notice when the real ducks are continuing from the human voices. I then took one small duck - just a Quack Quack - and transposed her on the transposition machine, and she quacks the beginning of the Marseillaise: Quack-quak-quak-qua-qua, qua-qua, cah cah cah qua quaaa. I take this sound down again, and once more there are human beings. These human shouts become lower and lower - ai ao oh ou ahh - and then, becoming dark and moaning without your noticing when it happens, theyre completely transformed into very low brass sounds. These sounds, which are still mixed with the slowly speeded-down human voices, begin the Marseillaise - waah-waah-whha wudh - very low and each time at a pace eight times slower than usual, until it seems like a funeral march.
Then I have this long summer days airplane sound - a sound I loved to hear when I was a child - lying in a meadow, watching the clouds and listening to this small plane - circling the room or hall for four and a half minutes. You follow it as a line and you become very quiet. Its soft and tender and very pure. Afterward you have the continuation of the Marseillaise, so slow that youve time to listen into each chord. This is made with a flood sound; each sound moves from one side to another, and you get the feeling of being in an enormous hollow space.
...What I use is the mutation process of nature; thats what music is all about. Its an intermodulation so that one being can become another. Im not interested in collage, Im interested in revealing how, at a special moment, a human sound is that of a duck and a ducks sound is the silver sound of shaking metal fragments. All these sounds are interrelated very subtly just by the manner in which you listen to them and in the way that theyre exposed in time and space; the basic material is all the same. Many of the fairy tales are about this: the straw that the millers daughter has to weave into gold in Rumpelstiltskin, for example. This has been in my works from the beginning: transubstantiation. Like the mystical moments in religion when the water in transformed into wine. And thats the theme of Hymnen.12
Stockhausen has added parts for a small group of live musicians, and a version with symphony orchestra, which has been performed by the New York Philharmonic. The most elaborate performance, was an outdoor performance given by the Yale Symphony that included marching bands, actors, film, and even aircraft.
In 1970, Stockhausen took up live processing with ring modulators again in Mantra, for two pianos, two sine wave generators, and two ring modulators, which is easily the most significant keyboard work of the past forty years. The title refers to a complex system built on interval expansions of a 13-note row that Stockhausen composed as the basis of this work.
The thirteen notes of the basic mantra are associated thirteen characteristics, or musical gestures;
1 - (A natural), regular repetition
2 - (B natural), accent at the end of the note
3 - (G sharp), normal, sustained
4 - (E natural), appogiatura, grace note group at the start of the note
5 - (F & D natural), tremelo
6 - (D natural), chord
7 - (G natural), accent at the beginning
8 - (E flat), chromatic grace notes linking notes 7 and 8
9 - (D flat), staccato
10 - (C natural), irregular repetition
11 - (B flat), germfor a trill
12 - (G flat), sforzando
13 - (A natural), arpeggio
Throughout the course of this seventy minute composition, the basic intervals of the mantra expand. For example; a minor second at one expansion level becomes a major second at another level. At still another level, the original minor second could expand to a perfect fourth, and so on.
The ring modulators are used to create a new kind of harmonic and timbral relationship:
To this end, each of the pianists has an apparatus on his left hand side into which a microphone amplifier, a compressor, a filter, a ring-modulator, a scaled sine-wave generator, and a volume control have been built. The piano sound is amplified by 2 microphones, and ring-modulated by a sine wave. At some distance behind each piano stand loudspeakers which reproduce the modulated sound simultaneously with the played sound. The modulated sound should be somewhat louder than the original sound.
In each of the 13 large cycles of the work, each pianist introduces a sine tone, corresponding each time to the central note around which all the Mantra-transformations are centered. The 1st pianist presents the upper 13 notes of the 'Mantra' in succession, and the 2nd pianist the lower 13 notes, the Mantra - mirror.
Each 1st and 13th note of each recurrence of the Mantra are thus identical to the mirroring sine tone; hence they sound completely consonant, and thus completely natural - like piano notes; and depending on the intervallic remoteness of the remaining Mantra notes from the mirror note of the ring modulation, the modulated sound sounds more or less 'dissonant', and its spectrum more or less unlike the piano (minor seconds and similarly minor ninths and major sevenths, produce the most dissonant modulator sound, octaves and fifths the most consonant). Hence one perceives a continual respiration from consonant to dissonant to consonant modulator-sounds, resulting from the precisely tuned relationships between the modulating sine tones and the modulated piano notes.13
Stockhausens next major electronic work, Sirius, composed between 1975-77, was commissioned by the West German government for the United States bicentennial. The first performance took place at the opening of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., during July, 1977, and is dedicated to the pionieers on earth and in space.
This 96 minute work is scored for 8 channel tape, soprano and bass voices, trumpet, and bass clarinet. The electronic music was realized on the SYNTHI 100, built by Electronic Music Systems of London. The SYNTHI 100, sometimes called the "super-putney", is a very large voltage controlled synthesier with several joysticks, linear controllers and keyboards that can be patched to perform a variety of functions. The multi stage sequencer made it possible for Stockhausen to advance concepts from his earlier work, Kontakte, and further his work with unified time structuring:
Be aware that a new concept of music has started in the middle of this century. It is now possible to speed up and slow down musical material and use other methods of transformation that were not possible before. So, we can pass from one realm of perception, melody-figure-formula, into another realm, which is timbre-color. [Forty] years ago I said that if I were to compress a Beethoven symphony into two seconds the resulting sound would have a special character, which is determined by the form of the whole symphony. The inner details and the color, or timbre, have been composed by Beethoven. In this way timbre can be a result of composition. A composer composes the timbre by building a musical structure and speeding it up. The timbre will always be related to the form because every now and then the composer could stretch the sound and you would hear the form. So I could record any sound in the world and slow it down to last one hour and it would be a form. Any sound can be a form, depending on how slow it is played. Once we understand that figure and timbre are dependent upon speed, we can switch from one realm of perception to another.14
In the 1950's and 1960's it was possible to speed up recorded sounds to the point that they become timbre. With the sequencers on the SYNTHI 100, Stockhausen had much more control over the result, and could work with more complex figures, and longer materials became practical.
For the basic musical material of Sirius, Stockhausen used twelve melodies from an earlier work of his, Musik im Bauch (Music in the Belly), which correspond to the twelve signs of the zodiac, and were played by twelve specially built music boxes. These melodies were later arranged for various solo instruments and ensembles and published under the title Tierkreis (Zodiac).
Sirius is in three large parts. First is the presentation, in which the performers introduce the basic dramatic concept of the work, in which the earth is visited by beings from the star called Sirius. The second part is the wheel, which is itself divided into four sections, corresponding to the four seasons. There are four possible forms of the wheel, depending upon which season the particular performance takes place. Each of these sections uses one of the twelve melodies as the principle material: Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn, that are in continuous transformation from one to another. The last part is the annunciation, which is taken from Jakob Lorber's Der Kosmos in geistiger Schau.
Aside from speeding up and slowing down the melodies, Stockhausen used a variety of control voltage techniques to transform the material. For example; the control voltages used to produce a certain melody on a voltage-controlled oscillator, may also be used to control a voltage-controlled-filter that is filtering another melody. Or the rhythm of one melody may be mixed with the rhythm of another. With these, and other techniques, Stockhausen has expanded musical concepts, and parameters.
The beginning of the summer section, CANCER, is a three part counter point: three layers of entirely different structures and different tendencies of transformations. The easiest layer is the layer that begins with the ARIES melody. This melody is repeated many times and in each repetition the tendency is that short fragments of the melody are increasingly sped up and become more irregular and so fast that we can no longer hear the individual notes. The rhythm becomes more and more irregular, like wind blowing through a clear form and distorting it.
In the fourth repetition the melody begins to shrink. It has never been possible in traditional music to shrink a melody. All of the intervals in the melody become a little bit smaller [by decreasing the voltage-controlled-oscillator's sensitivity to the control voltages]. So in thirteen cycles the entire melody is compressed in twelve steps to the semi-tone, and finally to just one note: G natural.
This is completely new thinking in music. A melody, or what I call a formula is intact but the intervals shrink or expand. The figure becomes even more distorted through speed. It is played so fast that you can not grasp the rhythm. It is in the process of transformation. Later, I have very slowly brought in the rhythm of another melody, CANCER. First the two are heard together, then the CANCER rhythm is alone while the pitch range is decreasing and we reach a zero point. All of the parameters are brought to zero. Rhythmic zero is periodicity - pure meter. Zero pitch is a single pitch.
The ARIES melody is also being transformed to become another melody by slowly changing the intervallic structure in the microtonal band of sound. After this band goes into the low register and settles on the G natural, the CAPRICORN melody is brought in.
The second layer begins as follows: there is a sound like a swarm of birds. It sounds a bit like Moroccan oboes. This layer is very dense and fairly narrow in range. It is the CANCER melody, summer. These 'bird sounds' are nothing more than the CANCER melody played extremely fast, so dense that we cannot recognize it. If we were different being, if our brains were built differently, the perhaps we could hear it.
So, more of the melody of SUMMER begins to emerge from this dense band of sound. Each sequence of the melody lasts about two-fifths of a second. Then I slow down the speed to show components of this melody. It then becomes unrecognizable again, because it is too slow. This transformation is from the extremely fast bird sounds which are slowly dis-covered, then to extremely long notes. The third layer begins with very long notes. The distances between the attacks are so long that you cannot recognize the melody; it is ARIES, which is slowly being transformed into CANCER.
At the end of this section, all three processes have come to a conclusion and everything meets on a G natural.
I played all of this in realtime. I had two keyboards, about twenty controls for speed up and slowing down the sequencer which contained the four melodies, and potentiometers for the dynamics, rhythm, and filters. I had a process plan, and a clock, and I knew when to reach the low G. So, I made several version and chose the best.15
Sirius requires a somewhat unusual performance set-up, and cannot be performed in a traditional concert arrangement. The work must be performed in a round or square auditorium that has a flat floor with no permanent seating. The audience sits in concentric circles, facing the center, where the sound projectionist (sound re-enforcement) sits operating the mixer. The four performers and eight loudspeakers are place on platforms, about five feet tall, surrounding the audience. The musicians have the electronic musicfed to headphones, and the sound projectionist mixes the amplified voices and instruments with the electronic sounds.
With the loudspeakers surrounding the audience, the spatial movement of the electronic can be heard very clearly. Among the forms of spatial movement, are sounds rotating at strobe speeds; speeds in excess of ca. ten revolutions per-second. Unfortunately this does not translate well into stereo, and performances of Sirius are all to rare.
As Stockhausen's concepts of music-in-space get more complex, standard concert halls are almost completely inadaquate for performances of his music.
Concert halls should develop in an entirely new way in future. They should be circular, or nearly circular - say octagonal, in shape; there should be no fixed balconies and galleries for the public, but a gallery for musicians or loudspeakers, or both, one about 1.10 meters high, a second one about 3.5 meters high, all around, fully wired for microphones and amplification. The public seating should ideally be movable. There should be three stages at least, to the left, front and right, but interconnected, so that one stage can be in preparation while another carries the action, also to allow up to three scenes to be played simultaneously around a 270û arc. Then if it happened that, if you were paying close attention to one part of the action and missed something going on elsewhere, you could come back again to experience what you had missed. The element of heatrical polyphony is important in my works, and the new halls should be designed for it.16
In 1977, Stockhausen began work on a cycle of seven operas, one for each day of the week, under the title Licht (Light). Of the four operas which have been completed and performed (Donnerstag, Samstag, Montag, Dienstag), Dienstag aus Licht (Tuesday form Light), have the most complex arrangement of live and recorded electronic music.
Dienstag aus Licht is scored for soprano, tenor, and bass voices, at least three synthesizer players, percussionists performing on specially built midi controllers made into a glockenspiel and marching drum, as well as nine trumpets, nine trombones,orchestra, chorus, four dances/mimes, and eight channel tape. The first performance of the complete work was given on May 28, 1993, at the Leipzig Opera.
Dienstag aus Licht has two acts, a greeting (like an overture), and a farewell:
ACT I. JAHRESLAUF (Course of the Years)
ACT II. INVASION - EXPLOSION mit ABSCHIED (Farewell)
For performances, Dienstag, requires seven wireless microphones for the soloists, nineteen general microphones, one 8-channel tape recorder, one stereo tape recorder, over thirty loudspeakers, and a forty-input mixer with special 8 channel joysticks.
The 8 channel space in Dienstag is completely different than that in Sirius, where the audience was surrounded by the loud speakers. Here, the audience is placed inside a two tiered 8 channel cube, which allows sounds to be placed at any vertical point in relation to the audience, in addition to the possibilities of traditionaleight channel placement.
For the rotation of sounds in the 8 channel tape (octophonie), Stockhausen used two Yamaha DMP7s, a JL Cooper Fadermaster, an Atari 1040 running C-Lab Notator, and recorded onto a Sony 3324 digital 8 track.
The electronic music was produced, entirely with MIDI equipment; 2-Yamaha DX-7 FD's, 2- Casio FZ-1's, Roland D-50, Oberheim Matrix 1000, ART Proverb, Roland SDE 2000 signal processor, Roland Vocoder SVE 350, Atari 1040 with Unitor hardware and Notator software. The electronic music for the 8-channel tape was realized together with the composers son, Simon Stockhausen, who programmed the synthesizers according to Stockhausens instructions (and in Stockhausen's presence), during three months of daily work. Since Stockhausen's concept of electronic sounds is quite a bit different than envisioned by MIDI, a somewhat unusual approach, for MIDI, was necessary:
I, together with my Dad, produced the sounds/materials which were later processed by my Dad and made into OCTOPHONIC music, spatialized as he calls it. Of course he wrote the score, which would indicate, for example, to play a C-sharp, but what this C-sharp could become, I could determine myself, to a great extent, while he was correcting and making suggestions.So, I was the interpreter of the score; this is electronic music, not normal music, and so I had alot of freedom to create the
sounds, and he had final approval.
Rather than making sounds which are played in a normal sense, I used micro-composition. For example; I would use samples that were made up of three or four textures, then re-sampled and played polyphonically. So, I would get very complex inner textures for the sounds. Or the score would indicate a glissando from a high D-natural to a low C-sharp - that could be anything - so what was doen with the inner texture of the glissando was up to me, though my father was always leading the realization.
The entire tape is about seventy minutes long, so each sound must be interesting. If you hear a D-sharp two minutes - it gets pretty boring if it doesn't have something to it. If I had a long sustained sound, I would always add some stereo phasing, or filtering, controlling the filter curves by hand - I don't like sounds that have automatic filter curves, too boring. And my father doesn't like that sort of thing either, so I'm always looking for interesting ways to make sounds.
On the DX-7s for instance, I would make oscillator glissandi, using two sliders. Slider one would control operator 4 and slider two would control operator 2. And using the wheels and aftertouch, you could have four controllers affecting the sound.
Microtonal capabilities are also useful. In the third Invasion there are sound-explosions,and, very quickly, one sound goes up, one stays steady and one goes down. I used 1/8 tones. The steady sound was moving in 3 or 4 cents around the tone.
I had a great time, and I learned alot, working with my Dad, because he has fantastic ears! He helped me find more and more interesting inner textures, because the music itself is very slow, with very long durations. Each sound in itself is very lively, and very interesting, so that the music doesn't seem slow, it seems very dense and very complex.17
Much of the stage action, especially in the second
act, does not occur on the stage at all, but happens on clear plastic runways
that are built over the audiences' seats. The beginning of the second act, Invasion,
which has the octophonic electronic music, is a kind of musical battle between
two groups of musicians, enacted out on the runways. In addition to the vocalists,
trumpeters, and trombonists, Stockhausen has synthesizer players, and percussionists
with portable controllers who wear their sound systems. In order for the electronic
sounds to emanate from the vicinity of the performer, as in the acoustic instruments,
the performers have loudspeakers mounted to their shoulders, and samplers (S-1100)
worn as backpacks. In addition to the three-dimensional 8-channel tape, the
audience has electronic and acoustic sounds literally running around the auditorium.
The last scene of the opera, Synthi-Fou, is an extended synthesizer solo, in
which Simon Stockhausen is propelled around the stage on a large motorized platform,
performing on a multi-synthesizer set up. The electronic music for the entire
second act, like Kontakte, exists in a version for tape alone. This version,
Oktophonie, is a completely different expierence than the version with the performers.
Although spatial aspects have been central to Stockhausen's work for several
decades, Oktophonie carries this concept to new extremes. The CD (stereo) mix
is the most satisfying transfer of multi channel music to a two channel listenig
One of the reasons for this is that - after countless experiments - I discovered a new way to convert the octophonic movements into stereophonic movements. This discovery surprised me even after decades of stereo mixing. It is recommended, when listening repeatedly, also to listen to the whole composition over earphones. Whoever can, should place 4 loudspeakers in the four corners of an almost square room and play back the twotracks over 2 loudspeakers at the left and 2 at the right - if possible, not softer than circa 80 phone. You will be amazed!18
Dienstag aus Licht, is the most convincing of the electronic operas of the past decades. There is no hint of gimmickery, or the use of electronics for novelty's sake.Dienstag, like the other works from Licht, is powerful, challenging, interesting, even fun.
It is rare, perhaps unique, that a composer can combine advanced concepts of both music and sound to produce works of art. Yet Stockhausen has been doing just that, and consistenly, for over four decades. From the first electronic work from 1952,through his work with analog synthesizers, at computer music facilities such as IRCAM, to his current interest in MIDI, Stockhausen describes his work in electronic music as consisting of Five Revolutions Since 1950:
1. The first revolution occurred from 1952/53 as musique concrète, electronic tape music and space music, entailing composition withtransformers, generators, modula-tors, magnetophones, etc; the integration of all concrete and abstract synthetic sound possibilities (also noises), and the controlled projection of sound in space (Konkrete Etude, Elektronische Studien I--I Gesang der Jünglinge, Kontakte, Gruppen for three orchestras, Carr é for four choirs and orchestras, etc.)
2. From around 1963 I started expanding this to live elecrotronic music utilising a group of experimental interpreters. That resulted in many compositions involving new processes of modulation, transformation, and spatial projection of the orchestra (Mixtur, Stop, Hymnen,Sternklang, etc.), of such individual instruments as the tam-tam, piano, viola, electronium, electrochord, etc.(Mikrophonie I, Solo, Prozession, Kurzwellen, Spiral, Pole, Expo, Mantra, etc.), and of choral singers (Mikrophonie II, Stimmung, etc.) with the sound-projec-tionist taking on a completely new function, enormouslyexpanding the traditional role of the conductor.
This development also includes the intermodulation technique employed in such works as Hymnen, and Telemusik, which is carried further in Sirius and throughout the whole of Licht (and again now in the sound scenes in Montag ausLicht).
3. The third revolution occurred during work on Sirius in the WDR studio, utilising the big EMS Synthi 100 and the perfected eight channel rotation table. For three years I had to relearn everything about regulation sound-forma-tion processes in real time and utilising highly complex eight-track equipment.
4. A fourth new beginning came in 1984 through composing with the 4X computer and sound-synthesizer at IRCAM in Paris for the eight-channel version of Kathinkas Gesangfor flute and electronic music. Once again I had to learn a new way of thinking, sign language, notation, etc. - and that development has only just begun.
5. And now the explosion of the mobile electronic studio is getting underway - a far-reaching, unforseeable transformation of the craft of composition now that use of the playable-synthesizer has become technically and financially possible. That may be a natural further development of everything I have implemented over the past [forty] years, but mastery of the various synthesizer systems demands the greatest skill, imagination and patience.
Timbre Composition has now become a misleading term because composing a single timbre (today, a sound program) is indivisibly linked with the composition of an entire work. One cannot in fact make a 'timbre program' determining all the modulations without devoting detailed attention to the duration, dynamics, spatial projection, etc., of this sound with regard to all the other simultaneous, preceding and succeeding sound-events within an organic context.
That is why composition of a single sound at the synthesizer -in conjunction with interpreters experienced in this specific synthesizer - often demands many hours work and also usually several changes during rehearsals.
That development is leading in precisely the direction I time and again predicted from the very start: that every composer - both alone and with qualified interpreters - composes an intrinsic sound-world for every new work...19
We're living at an unbelievably creative moment in the history of music. In the entire history of music there has never been a revolution like the present one. Everything is in flux. No notation is fixed any longer. New possibilities of shaping music are discovered daily. The nature of sound is opening up with a rapidity outstripping all attempts at putting this to use. The same is true of the enormous explosion in composing with dynamics. What I'm saying all sounds very technical but that generates new feelings and completely new experiences. A lay-man's eyes pop out of his head with astonishment when he hears these tone-colors, these dynamic graduations, the unbelievable dynamic subtleties, experiencing sound as a vast sensation of space and dynamics ranging from all-embracing volume to the merest whisper. That has never been possible with traditional instruments...
I don't see any limits for the foreseeable future. The next century will bring extensive developments in all the directions I've indicated - development of what my generation has been permitted to discover since 1950 because of its key historical position as pioneers, as in space travel, atomic physics and genetics. In music a completely new consciousness has been developed, a new knowledge of sound vibrations, changes in perception, and an impact which cannot as yet be described in words but which brings about a new music within human beings.20
1 Cited in; Herbert Russcol, The Liberation of Sound: An Introduction to Electronic Music (London: Prentis Hall, 1972) pp. 171-172.
2 Peter Blake, the photographer for the cover of Sgt. Peppers, in the booklet accompanying the CD release (Parlaphone, CDP 7 46442 2).
3 Unless otherwise indicated, cited material concerning Etude , Studie I, Studie II, and Gesang der Jünglinge, are taken from: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Compact Disk Number Three; Electronic Music 1952-1960, from the complete edition (Stockhausen Verlag), accompanying booklet.
4 Jonathan Cott, Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973) pp. 37-38.
5 Karlheinz Stockhausen, Stockhausen on Music, compiled by Robin Maconie (London: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd., 1989) pp. 88-89.
6 Cott, Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer, pp. 71 - 72.
7 Stockhausen on Music, pp. 91 95.
8 Stockhausen on Music, pp. 77 - 78.
9 Karlheinz Stockhausen, jacket notes for Mikrophonie I, Mikrophonie II (Columbia Masterworks MS 7355).
10 Karlheinz Stockhausen, from the jacket notes for Telemusik, (Deutsche Grammophone Gesellschaft, 137012).
11 Jonathan Harvey, The Music of Stockhausen (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975) p. 101.
12 Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer, pp. 150 - 151.
13 Karlheinz Stockhausen, jacket notes for Mantra (DGG, 1530 208).
14 Michael Manion, Barry Sullivan, Frits Weiland, Stockhausen in Den Haag (Zeist, Netherlands, Vonk Publishers, 1983), pg. 16.
15 Stockhausen in Den Haag, pp. 16, 17.
16 Stockhausen on Music, pg. 156.
17 Simon Stockhausen, in conversation with the author, May 1992, in Lisbon.
18 Karlheinz Stockhausen, Oktophonie, CD number 41 from the complete edition, accompanying booklet, pg. 27 (Stockhausen Verlag.)
19 Karlheinz Stockhausen, Towards a Cosmic
Music (Element Books, Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset, 1989), pp. 127 - 128.
20ibid pp. 117 - 118.